“Of course.” She scuttled around like a dung beetle and hopped up the narrow staircase. Julian could hear the driver, banging up behind them with his garment bag.
On the second floor, the woman waddled to the end of the hallway and opened a door, revealing a big, airy bedroom that exceeded the weight limit on ruffles. Laura Ashley on LSD couldn’t find use for that many ruffles.
“It’s the honeymoon suite,” she said, beaming. She offered her pudgy hand. “I’m Elizabeth, by the way, but you can call me Lizbet.”
“Liz … bet. What a charming name.” He poked his head into the room and frowned. “I’m sorry, Lizbet, but where’s my bathroom?”
“Down the hall. Third door on the left.”
He turned slowly to face her. “You’re saying I have to share a bathroom with other people?”
“Ordinarily that would be true, but ski season hasn’t started yet. You’re our only guest. So, really, it’s like a private bathroom.”
“Except that I need to pack a lunch to get to it.”
She puffed up. “Well, really—”
“I’m sorry. That was just a joke. The room is fine. Give my driver a room, too, would you? Preferably on another floor. Then I’ll buy up all the rest. I’d like to have the place to myself.”
“Of course.” She flushed prettily and bobbed her head. Backing away from him, she smiled until the last possible moment, when she turned and disappeared.
He sat down on the end of the bed. The springs squeaked and moaned beneath his weight. “Unpack my bags, will you?” he said to the driver, flopping back on the bed.
A minor emergency kept Liam in the office until almost five o’clock. By the time he closed up the building and headed for the hospital, it was completely dark. As he stepped out into the night, he heard the high-pitched, faraway sounds of children laughing. They were skating tonight.
He got into his car and drove through the deserted town. In the hospital, he went to the small corner office that he shared with Tom Granato, a general practitioner from Deming.
He knew the instant that Julian True arrived. A flurry of sounds came through the door, footsteps sped up, whispers turned up in volume. He waited for his intercom to buzz.
Instead, Sarah appeared at the door, opening it without even a knock. Her face was flushed a bright pink, and she was grinning. “Dr. Campbell, there’s a man here to see—”
She sucked in a surprised breath. “How did you know?”
“He says he’s here to see Mikaela.”
“Send him in.”
Sarah bobbed a quick nod and disappeared.
And so it began. Liam tried to steady his nerves. He had taken such care with himself this morning. Put on his best black pants and the blue flannel shirt Mike had given him for Christmas last year, but now he saw the pointlessness in it all. The white coat he wore would deflect only the measliest blow.
The door opened.
The man standing in the open doorway smiled—just that—and Liam felt ill. The photographs didn’t do Julian justice; no lens could capture the magnetic power of that face.
“I’m Julian True,” he said unnecessarily, and Liam could tell that he enjoyed acting as if there were people on this planet who didn’t know who he was.
Liam rose slowly to his feet. He pulled the glasses from his face—as if that would help—and tucked them in the pocket of his lab coat. “Hello, Julian. I’m glad you could come. I’m Liam Campbell. I wanted—”
“Can I see her now?”
Liam sighed. He didn’t know why he’d wanted to put it off; it wasn’t as if Julian was going to leave. Still, the thought of bringing them together made him feel sick. “Follow me.”
He led Julian down the hallway toward Mikaela’s room. Slowly he opened the door.
Julian pushed past him and went to the bed. He stared down at Mikaela for a long time. “What happened?”
“She fell off a horse and hit her head on a fence post.”
“How long has she been like this?”
“A little more than a month.”
Julian brushed a strand of hair from her eyes. “Heya, Kayla. It’s Jules.” Then he looked up. “Can she hear me?”
Liam stared down at Mikaela. “That’s why you’re here.”
“What do I do?”
Liam felt like Grandpa Walton giving advice to Robert Redford about how to talk to a woman. “Just talk to her, Julian.” His voice fell to a whisper. “She sometimes responds to … memories … stories from the past.”
“And my name. She responded to my name, right?”
It took an incredible effort to answer. “Yes.”
Julian dragged a chair over to the bed and sat down. “Leave us alone for a while, will you, Doc? Heya, Kayla. It’s me. Jules.”
She didn’t respond.
Liam let out a shaky breath. He realized he’d been afraid she would simply wake up, just like that, when she heard Julian’s voice.
Julian took her hand in his. “Kayla, honey?”
Liam couldn’t stand the sight of Julian touching her, so he turned and walked out of the room. In the hall, he leaned back against the wall.
It wasn’t until almost a full minute had passed that he realized what he’d done … or hadn’t done.
He hadn’t told Julian that he was Mike’s husband.
Julian had never been any good at writing his own lines.
He thought about ringing the nurse to bring him something decent to sit on, and bagged the idea. He wasn’t a complete idiot; he knew he was just fishing for something to think about, something except the woman lying before him.
She looked beautiful, like a sleeping princess. He half expected her to sit up, smiling, and say, Hey, Jules, what took you so long?
At the imagined sound of her voice, the years fell away. Julian hadn’t thought about her in ages, but now, looking at her, he could recall clearly how it had felt to love her … and to be loved by her. Of all the women he’d known in his life, she alone had given him a safe harbor, a place that felt like home.
He closed his eyes; memories floated to the surface. “Remember the beginning, Kay? The first time I kissed you, I thought I’d die. Not in the ‘I thought I’d die’ way of teenagers, but in a truly frightening way. My heart was beating so fast, I couldn’t breathe, and I thought, This is it, I’m going to die.
“You tasted like rainwater—did you know that?
“I fell so far in love with you it felt like I was drowning. Remember the first time we made love? We were out in some orchard, lying on a wool blanket. I had sent my assistant all the way to Yakima for a bottle of Dom Perignon. I wanted to be the first man to show you what starlight tasted like. I didn’t know I’d be your first lover, too.
“When you tasted the champagne, you laughed. You tucked your hands beneath your head and stared up at the sky and asked me to tell you about myself.
“I tried to tell you the prefab story that Val had invented, but you said, ‘The time we have is precious. I don’t want to end up knowing nothing about you except what’s in the Enquirer. I want to know that I touched you.’”
He tried to remember how they’d fallen out of love. It had been so deep, that well of their shared emotion, how had they drifted to the surface? Yet even as he wondered, he knew.
She’d wanted him to grow up. It sounded absurdly simple, but if he looked hard at the truth, that was the core of it. She had wanted him to make sacrifices for their family. But he’d been twenty-three years old. Barely ready to be a husband, completely unprepared to be a father. All he’d wanted was fun … and so he’d drawn back, taken the careless path he knew so well, the road lined with women whose names could never be remembered and parties that never died.
It felt as if a door had opened. Beyond it, he saw a glimpse into himself, past the golden boy, past the star, all the way back to the lonely boy he’d once been. In all the years between then and now, he’d never really loved anyone. This woman, Kayla, had been the closest. His love for her had been the best of him, and he’d turned his back on it.
He stared down at her face, studying the lovely half-moon curl of her black eyelashes, the pale puffiness of her lips. What could he say that would matter to this woman whom he knew so well and yet didn’t really know at all, this woman whose heart he’d broken with the ease of a child smashing an out-of-favor toy?
Tears seared his eyes. He couldn’t believe it. He hadn’t cried in years. Except when they paid him to, of course.
“You’d love this, Kay. Me, crying.” He leaned toward her, resting his chin on the cold silver bed rail. “Remember our first fight? It was at one of Val’s parties, after some screening. He told me he had a part for me—a little picture called Platoon. I said, ‘Who the hell cares about that war?’ and you hit me—right in front of everyone. You told me to quit being such a damned star and try acting.”
It had started there—the end that was all wrapped up in the beginning—and he’d been too selfish to notice. “You always asked so much of me, Kayla,” he said softly, shaking his head. “I never had that kind of talent … Why didn’t you realize that?”
He gazed down at her, noticing for the first time the plain gold band on the ring finger on her left hand.
“Jesus Christ,” he whispered. “You’re married?”
Liam drove through Last Bend. The town glittered like a diamond tiara set on white velvet. Behind it, a background of jagged blue peaks leaned toward the starlit sky.
He parked in front of the Country Haus Bed and Breakfast. In a silence broken only by the hushed moan of the car’s heater, he took a minute to collect his thoughts.
The last thing in the world he wanted to do right now was talk to Julian True, but he had no choice. When he looked up again, Julian was standing beside the car. The idiot was wearing a black T-shirt and jeans. He had to be freezing.
Liam reached over and unlocked the door. Julian slid into the seat and leaned back. “Jesus H. Christ, it’s cold out there.” Smiling, he turned to Liam. “I’m glad you called. The thought of spending the evening in that bathroom-less room, watching one of three speckled television channels, was more than I could bear. What do you say we get a drink?”
Offhand, Liam could think of at least thirty-two hundred things he’d rather do. “Sure.” He started the car again and drove through town. Liam couldn’t think of anything to say and Julian didn’t bother to speak.
Liam parked in front of Lou’s Bowl-O-Rama and got out of the car. “Follow me.”
Lou’s Bowl-O-Rama was pre-dinner-hour quiet. No one was using any of the four bowling lanes. As always, the place smelled of burnt grease and cigarette smoke. The owner, Lou Padinsky, stood behind the counter, wiping it down with a soggy gray rag. When he saw Liam, he flashed a grin that made the cigarette in his mouth droop. Ashes fluttered to the countertop and were quickly wiped away.